Yep, Still Here! :)

I know it has been quite awhile since I posted a real update but I have actually been busy since returning to Madagascar following my amazing Americaland vacation. So what have I been getting into since February? Well, I went to something called Training of Trainers (TOT) to prepare lessons for the new stage of volunteers, performed two dances for a huge crowd of people on International Women’s Day, worked with the American Embassy to rebuild stairs in my town, held a training for local community health workers on HIV/AIDS and condom use, and traveled to the Peace Corps training center to act as Yoda for the new health volunteers. This unprecedented level of productivity in my life has caused me to neglect certain things, this blog being one of them. So sorry for that. So without further ado, here are some lovely pics of the happenings I just described.

Our dirty but still pretty river in Andramasina

Our dirty but still pretty river in Andramasina

Getting my dance on at the International Women's Day celebration (March 8)

Getting my dance on at the International Women’s Day celebration (March 8)

And a native dance too

And a native dance too

Stair reconstruction with the Embassy

Stair reconstruction with the Embassy

The stair reconstruction project was a pretty big deal for be because 1) I was actually involved in constructing a physical object 2) I was working with the American Embassy on the project and 3) it was initiated by a local group (Red Cross) so there were a lot of people anticipating the result. After the project was over the Peace Corps Madagascar country director asked me to write a brief article sharing my experience with the project. I included the write-up below. Mazotoa (enjoy)!

A Step in the Right Direction

Tantely and I stood on the hillside like a pair of statues completely consumed in our task of watching the distant roadway. Our straining eyes searched for any sign of an approaching vehicle. When a large white truck rounded the bend I saw her previously frozen expression break into a smile. I knew in that moment we were thinking the same thing, “The stairs really will be built!”

A month prior to that afternoon on the hillside I had been approached by several members of the Andramasina Red Cross. They hoped that if we worked together we might find a solution to a pressing community need. In the town of Andramasina there are stone and cement stairs that connect the main road to the entrance of the public elementary school. The approximately 300 students who attend this school must therefore use those stairs multiple times a day. This past December however, a large section of the stairs was destroyed by heavy rains and runoff. The local Red Cross volunteers had noticed with alarm that children continued to use the heavily damaged stairs in spite of their dangerous condition. The volunteers were concerned for the safety of the students and that of the countless other community members who used the stairs. The solution was simple  – the stairs needed to be rebuilt. But how to accomplish that goal? The Red Cross could supply workers and easily acquired materials like sand and water but a vital question remained: where would they find the money to fund the cement and stones?

After my conversation with the volunteers I went to work writing a small grant proposal which I immediately sent on to Peace Corps for review. I hoped that perhaps I could get enough funding through PCPP to purchase the needed materials. However, that turned out to be completely unnecessary. In a stroke of amazing good fortune, the consulate section of the American Embassy heard about my project proposal and contacted me with a proposition. They offered to completely fund the stair rebuilding in Andramasina and they only asked for one thing in return – the opportunity to come to Andramasina themselves and help with the construction process. I of course enthusiastically accepted these terms and shared the news with the ecstatic Red Cross volunteers.

That is the reason why a month later Tantely, the local Red Cross president, and I were standing so intently on that hillside. We were both eagerly awaiting the arrival of the consulate members and the bags of cement they had promised to bring. The first sight of that white truck glimmering in the distance brought with it a feeling of peace; the kind of peace that is felt after something long anticipated is finally realized.

The consulate section members were true to their word. They brought with them bags of cement, funds to reimburse the purchase of stones locally, and most importantly boundless enthusiasm. The consulate section, the local Red Cross volunteers, and I worked together most of the day to mend the damaged stairs. The only break taken was to eat some local food prepared for us by Andramasina residents as a sign of their appreciation. At the end of the day, there were ten or so very dirty people gazing with satisfaction on the newly rebuilt stairs.

As those of us in international development are well aware, projects can and do go horribly awry. Even the most carefully planned projects rarely go exactly as expected. So why was this particular project successful? First and foremost, it was truly community initiated. It was the local volunteers who identified the community need and dedicated themselves to discovering a solution. This was critical to its success because the community as a whole felt they had ownership in the project and were thus motivated to see it to completion. The stairs were their project, not the product of outside opinions or pressure. And secondly, this was a project made possible through collaboration. The consulate members, the Red Cross volunteers, and the community at large worked together to achieve a common goal. None of these parties alone could have achieved as great a result as was realized through working together. The pitter patter of tiny feet going up and down those stairs every day remind me of just how great the result truly was.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pasha
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 13:49:22

    🙂

    Reply

  2. Pasha
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 13:49:42

    why is that smilie so creepy looking??? it was supposed to be a normal smilie face.

    Reply

  3. Glenn
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 14:58:11

    You were our Yoda, too, Kim. You’re doing so much good work there. Good on you!

    Reply

  4. Danon
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 12:06:30

    I couldn’t agree more with the last paragraph; +1 for Bill Easterly.

    Reply

  5. Ellen Morales
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 20:50:07

    Again, dear Kim–is your next career as a writer?? Great story and great writing. Love you and miss you!

    Reply

    • khconner
      Apr 09, 2013 @ 10:40:24

      Well, if I thought I could feed and clothe myself as a writer I just might go for it. But for the sake of avoiding homelessness I should probably explore other options lol. In all seriousness though I’d love to write a book about all this some day. I hope I can count on you to be my editor 😉 ❤

      Reply

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